Students and the community

December 6, 2013 

On the night of Dec. 2, Cal Poly officials held their second community open forum inviting neighbors to participate in a discussion regarding a potential 1,400-bed student complex near the intersection of Slack Street and Grand Avenue.

The purpose was to hear concerns from the public and encourage written comments on the draft Environmental Impact Report. Those detailed comments must be submitted no later than Jan. 9 and should focus on the project’s impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhood.

At the forum, Cal Poly leaders were quick to stress the importance of “student success.” As a lifetime resident of SLO, with a degree and retirement from Cal Poly, I would suggest that I’m as much invested in “student success” as any administrator on campus. However, I think how we define “student success” is where we will see some obvious differences.

What I and many other residents want from the university is acknowledgment that “student success” is more than earning a degree and leaving a legacy in the archives of the university. Success is having a partnership with the surrounding community. Success is nurturing relationships with your neighbor that bring value to both parties. Success is respecting other people’s property and the right to peacefulness in their home.

It’s understandable to expect first-year students to have accessibility and proximity to such things as classrooms, recreation, dining and health facilities. The theme of the evening was clearly to justify the proposed site while challenging the idea that other potential sites on campus could have similar levels of success given the opportunity.

It’s important to note that Cal Poly is the second largest land-holding university in the state, second only to Berkeley, and one of the largest land-holding universities in the nation. What’s not clear is why a comprehensive evaluation of the current Master Plan did not identify one or more sites that would have been more sensitive to surrounding neighborhoods. With the university’s desire to add an additional 4,000 to 5,000 students over the next few years, a long-term plan to fulfill those housing demands seems appropriate.

It doesn’t take long once you’ve adopted San Luis Obispo as your home to understand what impact Cal Poly students have on the neighborhoods surrounding the university. The exuberant youthful spirit of students in our community is something we can all embrace at different levels. However, it’s the negative behavior of the few that residents in those neighborhoods bring to my attention weekly. Granted, the number of students causing the negative impacts are often written off as insignificant in terms of volume. However, remnants of late-night escapades down Kentucky, Hathway, Slack, Longview or any street close to campus would suggest otherwise.

Do a few bad apples spoil it for the rest? In this case, the answer is yes. It’s sad, but the cumulative effect on many longtime residents has taken its toll and their level of patience, and tolerance is running thin.

We’re extremely fortunate that our police chief and his staff are being creative and resourceful in addressing this ongoing phenomenon of student off-campus behavior. But what we don’t need is a new housing complex in a location that exacerbates the problem while we’re making significant efforts to curtail it.

Our own land-use planning emphasizes neighborhood preservation. Character issues such as noise and parking are indisputably significant. Currently, on-campus parking fees have the unintended consequences of pushing faculty, staff and students into adjacent neighborhoods for their parking needs. It’s disingenuous to suggest that traffic circulation and safety issues in the area will not worsen and have pronounced impacts.

I implore Cal Poly leaders to continue the long tradition of being good neighbors and work with the community and its elected representatives to minimize the impacts of your decisions on our existing neighborhoods.

We applaud Cal Poly for its proactive efforts this year to address off-campus behavior. We look forward to a day when we can have the same enthusiasm for the additional on-campus housing.

Dan Carpenter serves on the San Luis Obispo City Council.

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